Kenya plays host to continental bee laboratory

Kenya will host a bee laboratory, the first of its kind in Africa, aimed at boosting research on bee health and improving food security in Africa, at a time when emerging diseases,pests and human activity has put a strain on honey production denying the country and region revenue in honey and other bee products.

Dubbed African Central Reference Laboratory (CRL), the centre to be based in Nairobi has been sponsored by the European Union in collaboration with the African Union Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AUIBAR) at a tune of Sh1.44billion, which also include setting up of four bee health satellite stations in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia and Liberia. Bee Keeping has been hailed as important in food security in the country while providing a source of income to bee keepers.

For starters it requires minimum land compared to other forms of farming. 50 colonies which are capable of producing upto 10 kilos of honey require just a quarter od an acre which doesnt have to be fertile. And while the primary product, honey, is economically rewarding, other bee products like beeswax, pollen, royal jelly and bee venom are emerging as alternative sources of income. But equally important is the role the insects play in pollination of plants, trees, fruits and crop assisting in bio diversity and increase in crop yields. With beekeeping predominantly being carried by smallholder farmers and being responsible for pollination and plant growth, human activities like deforestation have threatened the survival of bees that rely on trees for shelter.

Globally, the issue of bee health is becoming a major concern against the background of the collapsed colony disorder (CCD), a phenomenon which has since 2006 become a serious problem, threatening the health of honey bees and the economic stability of commercial beekeeping and pollination operations in Europe and the United States. “As icipe has proved over the past 30 years, honeybees have a very significant role to play in improving the lives of millions of people, especially those living in marginalised areas, in Africa. Aside from honey products, bees also provide critical pollination services. However, there is limited understanding regarding the key threats to the health of bees, as well as the ways to prevent them and therefore protect the sector in Africa,” explained icipe Director General, Prof. Christian Borgemeister.

The icipe CRL will generate new knowledge on bee diseases and pests across Africa and, through extensive capacity building efforts, it will propose and disseminate new and effective measures for their control. In collaboration with AU-IBAR, icipe will also provide the infrastructure and technical support to the four African satellite stations, and guide the incorporation of strategies, harmonised procedures and legislation on bee health into national development agendas across the continent. Ultimately, these activities should lead to an African framework on bee health, Prof. Borgemeister noted.

Farmers in the country have welcomed the center saying that it will not only assist them boost the low honey production figures but offer timely interventions in case of any attack like was witnessed in leading global honey suppliers recently. America, Asia and Europe were grappling with a deadly parasite that affected world honey production. According to research by San Francisco State University scientists, honey bees in many parts of the world abandoned their hives before being turned into “zombies” by a deadly fly parasite in their stomachs.

The researchers reported that the parasite lays its eggs inside the abdomen of the honey bee. About a week later, the bee dies, and the parasite’s pupae emerge from the throats and heads of the dead bees. The results were severe. In total, Britons consume around 30,000 tonnes of honey a year – a figure that is rising by about 11 per cent a year – of which between 5,000 and 7,000 tonnes a year was domestically produced. In 2011 when the attack happened the amount produced in the UK was a paltry 2,000 tonnes. The story is similar elsewhere. In 2008, Argentina, the world's largest honey producer, had a 20,000 tonnes honey shortfall, ascribed to drought and pasture being planted with soya beans for biofuels, while drought and hot weather was similarly blamed in Australia and eastern Europe for drastically reduced honey production.